Aid to Africa

Lion’s share of foreign aid diverted in war-torn Somalia

A UN audit of billions in aid money earmarked for starving Somalis remains largely unaccounted for due to violence and corruption in a country caught between Islamists and a kleptocractic government.

Military news and affairs monitor StrategyPage reports that aid groups, in effect, directly supported Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al-Shabaab after the UN permitted 80 percent of aid money and food aid marked for war-torn Somalia be handed over to local NGOs unaudited in order to ensure something be done to avoid mass starvation. [See: Somalia: What matters most].

Of the four million Somalis desperate for food, about half of them were located in areas controlled by al-Shabaab, writes StrategyPage, and although food did make it through to famine-plagued locations, most of that food was only made available to Somalis through markets taxed by al-Shabaab. Factions within the group were also in conflict over whether to distribute foreign aid at all (some dismissing aid as not “coming from God” or insisting that whatever happened, be it drought or famine, was God’s will).

Meanwhile, the lack of food prompted aid groups to urge al-Shabaab be paid off to ensure some supplies made it through to those in need. Writes StrategyPage:

There was a lot of starvation but al Shabaab kept journalists and foreigners away from areas where this was happening. The UN kept quiet and downplayed the stories (from refugees) about what was really going on. The aid money helped keep al Shabaab going and made some Somali aid officials rich. Between cash stolen outright and food aid diverted (sold) to markets the amount of money “misused” was well in excess of $100 million.

The diversion of aid in war-torn countries is a topic of growing interest.

In September, Probe International published a report on a study by Harvard and Yale economists that bears out the Somali experience — food aid prolongs civil conflict and supports rebel groups by feeding them or providing them with goods that can be traded for arms or other services:

Because humanitarian aid is often transported over long distances through territories barely controlled by weak governments, as much as 80 per cent can be stolen en route, say the study’s authors, Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian in the American Economic Review. Even when it does reach its intended recipients, armed groups can easily confiscate it. [See: Why food aid fuels international conflict].

This week, researchers at the University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM) announced they will launch a study to examine the effect of foreign aid in warring countries through a $2.5 million Minerva Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The university’s student newspaper, The Diamond, reports:

“The overriding argument that will be evaluated through the project is that under the right conditions, this development in foreign aid can help to reduce armed conflict, but under less favorable conditions, it may actually exacerbate and contribute to a longer conflict that’s ongoing, so it’s very much an argument that aid doesn’t have unconditional effects,” said government and politics professor Paul Huth, the director of CIDCM and a principal investigator for the grant.

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